William Cordova

New York

at Sikkema Jenkins


The elegantly subversive art of Peruvian-born William Cordova reflects his South American background and his sociopolitical concerns, as well as the physical and emotional consequences of a transient childhood spent shuttling between Lima and Miami. His most recent show, aptly titled “laberintos,” filled the gallery’s several spaces with a medley of drawings, collages, sculptures, photographs, videos and discarded objects—old LP covers, Black Panther leaflets, feathers—that obliquely but astutely connected indigenous, colonial and contemporary cultures. Cordova played on their often ambivalent relationships through overt and obscure references to historical figures, political events and social movements.

In the video installation this one’s 4U (p’anosotros), 2007-08, for instance, a documentary on the murdered rapper Tupac Shakur is dubbed with the soundtrack of a Spanish film about the 16th-century Incan leader for whom he was named, Tupac Amaru. (For leading his people into rebellion, Amaru was executed by the Spanish.) The footage is, alternately, completely dissonant or eerily in sync with the narrator’s voice and background music, and the piece strikes a balance between humor and poignancy. As disparate as the two worlds seem, they are bound by racism, revolutionary politics and the tragic fate of both protagonists.

The costs of economic development for both the natural environment and indigenous cultures, one of Cordova’s underlying themes, was elliptically addressed in untitled (sacsayhuaman, mukden, bayon de libertat), 2003-09. Strips of curving cardboard suspended from the ceiling by “imitation gold vending machine chains” (per the checklist) crisscrossed overhead like cobwebs in a dimly lit room, or, more precisely, like the hanging bridges found in remote areas of the rainforest. Even more elusive were the intended references of the 100 small abstract and figurative drawings and collages on paper and cardboard that covered three walls at a variety of levels, some hung upside down. The installation evoked a shrine of sorts, its intricate, colorful geometric compositions interspersed with miniature renderings of film and sound equipment, and punctuated with blank scraps of paper. Some sheets were covered with fragments of text suggesting indigenous languages, or with cryptic phrases and lists in which passages had been blacked out as if censored. One of the more legible pieces bore the broken words “dontfo/rgetw/ewere/here/first,” the last word of which dissolves into near illegibility at the cardboard’s darkened edge.

In a haunting series of large-scale collaged drawings, perfectly rendered, tiny columns of stacked LPs, tires and trucks float against expanses of gold leaf or pale paper bearing faint outlines of faces, handprints, treadmarks and gray smudges. These works have a melancholy, introspective feeling, akin to that of a blurry film loop of a lone bicycle wheel wobbling down a city street. Though his political concerns are sometimes obscured by the density of his imagery, Cordova’s work is richly satisfying.

Photo: William Cordova: Untitled (The Echo in Nicolás Guillén Landrián’s Bolex), 2008-09, one of 100 mixed-medium collages, 11 by 14 inches; at Sikkema Jenkins.